…Or, technically, three. Three in a row. A tumor and its two little satellites. Has this blog become TMI already?
Thank you for caring enough about me to visit my breast cancer update blog. Or maybe you’re here because you’re just morbidly curious. That’s okay, too. I can get verbose when I write, so I won’t take it personally if you just skim or skip entire posts or paragraphs. (How the hell would I know, anyway?)
So, on August 4th, I went on my merry way to my annual well-visit with my OB-GYN. She’s in her 30’s or 40’s, kinda sarcastic, and super smart, and I would totally be friends with her if she didn’t, you know, take samples of my cervix every summer. At the end of the appointment, we decided it was time for a routine mammogram. Since turning 40, I had already had two, at ages 40 and 42. It was time.
The following week, on August 11th, I walked into the Lynn Women’s Health Institute, the same place I’d had my previous mammos done. Now, those of you reading this who have had a mammogram know that it’s not the most pleasant of experiences. Your boobs basically get smooshed into a plexiglass sandwich while a helpful technician pushes you into this giant machine and positions and repositions your boobs into this sandwich. It doesn’t hurt too much, but it definitely doesn’t feel good. However, this place makes the whole getting a mammogram thing feel like a spa day. You get changed into a comfy robe, and sit in a waiting room with little waterfalls and new age music. Anyway, this was my third trip to this boob-smooshing-spa, so I knew what to expect, and I just knew that like the other two times, I was going to be given a clean bill of boob health. Except, that didn’t happen.
I was told there were a few “areas of concern” in my right breast, and the radiologist (the doctor who reviews x-rays, mammograms, sonograms, etc) recommended I get a breast ultrasound. “No big deal,” I thought… I know many people who have had this done, and it ends up being a cyst or something equally innocuous. So on August 19th, I checked into the diagnostic center I was sent to. It wasn’t as warm and fuzzy as the Lynn center, and the COVID socially-distanced waiting room chairs with giant X’s taped on the “no” chairs didn’t help. Still, the tech who did my ultrasound was lovely, remarking while looking at my birth date on the chart that she remembered celebrating the bicentennial as a kid and exclaiming, “That’s how old I am!”
The jovial atmosphere turned tense soon after she started the ultrasound. I knew something was up because she was SILENT. She spent quite some time going over the same spot. When she broke out a ruler and started measuring, I cringed. What the hell? Does she see something? Naturally, I was looking at the screen, and the sea of gray/white/black didn’t tell me anything. When I looked at the several ultrasounds of fetal Austin when he was in my belly 12 years before, I could never tell what was on the screen although it was clearly obvious to everyone else. Yeah, so a boob tumor was definitely not going to pop out at me. Before she finished, she spent some time imaging my right armpit. I had been told not to wear deodorant, and suddenly my biggest worry was that my nervousness was making me sweat and stink up that little wand. But I digress…
I sat in the waiting room waiting while a radiologist reviewed those images. The same tech called me in about 10 minutes later and informed me that I would need a biopsy. I could feel that warm burning sensation creeping up from my neck that I get when fighting back tears. I successfully managed not to cry in front of her. I sat in the car and Googled “breast biopsy” and one of the first things that came up is that “80% of breast biopsies come back benign.” I thought these little intruders would certainly be fibroadenomas or something like that. I needed to chill the F*#@ out.
Later that day, I had to contact my OB-GYN to get referred to a breast surgeon for the biopsy. Her office is all super modern and has an online patient portal where medical reports are uploaded and I can message back and forth with the doctor. I wrote her explaining I needed a biopsy, and she told me not to stress. I made an appointment with a breast surgeon, and in the meantime the radiologist report for the ultrasound was uploaded to the patient portal.
I knew it was cancer when I saw “birads5”. Well, not immediately. I had to look it up. But in a nutshell, the report found three small “lesions” with very technical descriptors and at the end of the report, the radiologist wrote: “Classification: birads 5”
Now, birads stands for “breast imaging reporting and database system”. It gives a score from 0-6 when describing a boob mass/lesion/whatever on a mammogram, ultrasound, or MRI. You can read more about this lovely classification system here.
birads 5: “highly suspicious of malignancy”
“>95% of being cancerous”
I realized that the 80/20 benign/cancer statistic didn’t tell the whole story. If the radiologist thought your spots were birads5, you’re basically screwed. That’s when I knew. That’s when I freaked out and began the grieving process of my previously carefree healthy boob life.
Those boo boos in my boob were apparently quite serious.
*I thought the boo-boo in the boob title was quite clever until I realized I wasn’t the first genius to come up with it. In my day job one of the most important things I teach my students is to give credit where credit is due. This woman wrote a lovely children’s book titled Mommy Has a Boo Boo in Her Boob. Though my kids are too old for it, I thought it was cute. You can check it out on Amazon here.